Thoughts on InSpectres

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We had our second session of Howard Hughes’ Men of Action last night, and I am very pleased with the way it’s been going. The system is fast and light and doesn’t get in the way of the gonzo, collaborative storytelling. The modified Franchise mechanics are allowing me to add some rules heft to the game’s non-linear, era-jumping narrative structure. And I’m finally getting the hang of calling for Stress Rolls as opposed to Skill Rolls. The group took some major licks last night, and I think that added to the sense of urgency and paranoia.

And props! Oh, how I love using props in games. I had mission briefing handouts, mp3 recordings of number stations to play for the team, and a cool MacGuffin for them in a biohazard bag.

But most importantly, my players are great. They just run with the premise beat I lay down in the beginning, and riff over it like great improvisational jazz musicians and take the story in wild, wacky, and entertaining directions that keeps everyone on their toes. Everyone gets to bring their own individual geek cred and passions to the table, and weave them into the plot.

I think this game truly captures what Rob MacDougall was talking about a few years back in this post on 20×20 Room:

Too often, though, it’s the GM who does all the research, who strings together all the conspiracies and gets the most jollies out of the elaborate setting. How much more exciting it could be, I wonder, if all the players were in on it, all Googling up connections and conspiracies, jointly spinning out the mad secret history of their game world?

Indeed. Five heads are proving better than one in this game.

I’ll try to get into more specifics later about the game’s story, mechanics, and group dynamics… but unfortunately I do have to get to work. I’ll just close by saying: if only Agent 15 would read the frigging mission briefings, maybe Control wouldn’t always be so irate. 😉

Oh, and a big shout out to Chris, who proved himself to be a Man of a Thousand Voices last night. His Patrick McGoohan was impeccable. 😉

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13 Responses to “Thoughts on InSpectres”

  1. Agent 15 Says:

    Hey! I read the damn dossier. In truth I just got confused. The tricky thing with InSpectres, which I keep forgetting about, is the fact that I can have narrative control. See, initially I wanted James Hopkins to be a Gray, because I was trying to work in the first instruction from Phase I, counter-surveillance of the Grays. Even though I rolled a bunch of sixes during my confrontation with “James Hopkins,” I forgot that I could pretty must just assert that he was a Gray (and that my Geiger Counter didn’t go off for X, Y or Z reason). Instead I just operated under the assumption that he wasn’t a Gray because the Geiger Counter wasn’t beeping — forgetting that I could have changed that to suit my tastes based on my roll.

    • johnobrien21 Says:

      Huh, that would’ve taken the story in a different direction. FWIW, I liked your story of *you* pretending to be a Grey better, and intimidating the Reptoid. It certainly ratcheted up the ‘instigate an interstellar incident’ to ‘start a shooting war’.

      And yeah, the narrative control can be daunting. I see Michelle sometimes soft pedaling her actions and narration, so I try to keep pushing and prompting. It’s also draining always trying to think on your feet and keep all the plates spinning… but its a good draining. 😉

      I was thinking this morning on the drive in to work that I should have had the final scene being Control driving the three of you to Griffith Park Observatory and handing you over to the Reptoids in order to prevent an all-out war. 😉

      • Christopher Tatro Says:

        Also, 36 should have been L.H. Oswald.

        • johnobrien21 Says:

          I was thinking this morning that maybe the perfect anti-climax to all of last night’s paranoia would be to have the shooter be revealed to be simply Irvin Willat’s illegitimate son, gunning for revenge: “I am Juan Irvin Emmanuel y Carlos Gallardo. You gringos murdered my father and my uncle seventeen years ago. Prepare to die.” 😉

  2. Christopher Tatro Says:

    I agree that the synergy of all of us together is really kickin’. Although I don’t really feel my narrative control engines engaging at full steam for some reason, so I’m just sitting back and enjoying the ride (immensely) for a lot of it. I’ll try to step that up.

    The whole UFO thing is, of course, my sweet spot. And you must have absolutely eaten it up with a spoon when I translated the last word of that second message. You bastard.

    • johnobrien21 Says:

      You translating the Delta Blue broadcast couldn’t have been more pitch perfect. I was so afraid you’d go “oh, that’s not my mariachi code music. Oh, and it’s for Agent 36. Nevermind.” 😉

      I was having a bitch of a time finding the right words for that message. “Terminate” and “retire” are nowhere to be found in the Book of Mormon! But then a perusal of a thesaurus turned up ‘smite’ and all was right with the world.

  3. Rob MacD Says:

    I feel equal parts vindication and jealousy. Vindication because, if you read the comments in that 20×20 post, it’s all Jere and Bryant (of all people) saying hem, hem, tut, tut, this would never work. Jealousy, because: Howard Hughes? UFOs? Delta Blue? Book of Mormon UFOs? Chris doing voices? Argh!

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      I apparently nailed McGoohan (which is sort of a combo between Hepburn and JFK, really), an educational filmstrip narrator (“What Timmy doesn’t know is that his best friend, Johnny is secretly a Reptoid from the earth’s core, wearing Johnny’s skin!”).

      And the UFOs weren’t Mormon – John was giving me number station broadcasts that corresponded to book/chapter/verse/word codes from the Book of Mormon that I had to translate on the spot. My “oh shit” moment when I was running the last code and it said “Smite” “Man” “Fourteen” and I realized that was MY number was pretty deep.

      But yes, this game is really sweet and I’d definitely has Unknown USA as part of its lineage.

      • John O'Brien Says:

        My “oh shit” moment when I was running the last code and it said “Smite” “Man” “Fourteen” and I realized that was MY number was pretty deep.

        And then you took that beautiful moment and made it even more sublime by having the crescendo be Agent 14 getting shot. ::golf clap:: Beautiful, man. I’m not one of those bloodthirsty “It’s me vs. the players” kind of GMs, but there’s a certain poetry to players killing their own characters.

        And how could I forget the training film! That was so frigging funny… you absolutely nailed the wow on the soundtrack. 🙂

    • John O'Brien Says:

      I think their concerns in that post mostly stem from the belief that gamers as a breed, if left to their own devices to guide the narration, will cause the story to degenerate into silliness. I’m not 100% convinced of that… I def. agree that humor is more prevalent because it is the more comfortable/acceptable social lubricant, but I think if the expectations of theme and tone are agreed upon early on, with the right players who are able to stay on message, you can do a serious game with player narrative control. It’s that pesky social contract rearing its ugly head again…

      But that being said, I think that’s why InSpectres is written to be a supernatural comedy. And why I’m running HHMoA to be an over the top b-movie (albeit with an undercurrent of noir cold war paranoia). Play to those tendencies, and you’ll get very good results.

      • Bryant Says:

        No, no. My concerns were purely personal, in that I really enjoy the feeling of uncovering clues that someone else has covered up for me. This was always my big disconnect with narrativist games. I get the concept, I just don’t /want/ player narrative in a certain kind of game. It is kind of bemusing to have people going “come here! I’ll free you from your chains!” I liked those chains, sniff.

        But hey, other people want other stuff, that’s all cool by me.

        • John O'Brien Says:

          The only chains it is freeing me from is the weight of having to do all of the heavy lifting as GM. Zero prep gaming! The only way I can actually have the time to game! 😉

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